85-year-olds might be bed-ridden, awaiting death. At best they could play with their grandchildren and perhaps even manage some gardening. Dr Robert J Wheeler, then aged 85 years and 201 days, did somewhat better when he became the oldest person to climb Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania on 2 October 2014.
At 19,341 feet, this is the highest mountain in Africa. In contrast to most people, Wheeler probably prefers to round his age up. Wheeler proclaimed, “I wanted to demonstrate that older people can remain active despite health problems.” He certainly did that. Guinness World Records has now acknowledged the deed.
Wheeler was accompanied by his son, William, who is known as Jack. The expedition commenced with a three-day, 20-mile hike via the Marangu route, which is the most popular, to a base camp 15,500 feet up Kili. Two days were spent acclimatising before the nine-hour climb to the summit – what Wheeler called “the tough part.”
Wheeler had previously climbed Japan’s Mount Fuji (12,388 feet) and Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua (22,837 feet), the highest peak outside of Asia. Wheeler, who hails from Webster Groves in Missouri, found this latest jaunt to be the hardest thing he had ever accomplished due to his age. He previously served in the army, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel, and as a professor of psychology at Saint Louis University. He has three children.
The trip was organised by Adventures within Reach of Boulder, Colorado, whose owner described Wheeler as “an inspiration … to all of us.” He saluted Wheeler for proving that with determination, people of any age can “put one foot in front of the other.” Wheeler returned the compliment: “Our guides did a great job, making it possible for us to summit.” Adventures within Reach, which specialises in customised and affordable adventures, also supported the previously oldest person to climb Kili, Dick Byerly.
Wheeler has written a book, Mountains and Minds, which details his climbing experiences, interspersed with detail of research into why people pursue arduous tasks such as mountain climbing. His Kilimanjaro experience will make for an interesting new chapter in the second edition.
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